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Publishing and Liability

Updated on August 31, 2014


Publishing an article on-line can potentially be a legal liability. This potential risk may be small but it shouldn't be taken lightly. The risks you could reciprocate negatively against the author, whether civil or criminal. This article isn't meant to be legal advice, but rather a guide to keep you out of hot water when publishing on-line. For more information visit the Digital Media Law Project's website.


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Defamation & False Light

Publishing information that harms the reputation of another person, group, or organization, or causes emotional distress upon another person, could pose a liability against you for "defamation" or "false light." Defamation is, in legal sense, a serious claim that causes damage to reputation stemming from false allegations and attributes both libel and slander. False light, which is only similar to defamation by causing harm to the victim, but generally states false allegations about the victim (although the implications may not be strong enough to hold water- per say) and cause emotional distress. The dagger of both defamation and false light is that both stem from false allegations.

Private Information

Publishing private or personal information about someone, without their permission, can open Pandora's box to legal liability, even if the content is fact with evidence. ( most states have legal support to a victim of such publishing. They fact that the information is true or factual is irrelevant to the possible suit. If a person publishes information about someone that does not help the public it is "private facts", this would also be offensive to the victim. A person's medical condition, sexual activities, or financial troubles are considered private facts.

Publishing truthful allegations against someone, whether an attempt to harm another's reputation or not, will not create liability. But, before publishing anything personal or private about the person(i.e. "Brad is HIV positive---He may also have AIDS"), consider the possibility of being at the center of massive liability. Click the hyperlink for Tips Avoiding Harms to Reputation Liability.

I can smell a lawsuit.

Publishing without consent can lead to an unwanted lawsuit.

Fame and Fortune

Using a person's likeness, photo, image or persona for fame, fortune or publicity is also a boiling pot for a potential lawsuit. This type of theft is usually solicited for advertisement or promotional use. Using someone's identity can not only be dangerous for a potential lawsuit but possible criminal charges if the party chooses to file charges.

Third-party Publishing

According to section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (U.S.C. § 230), if someone post in a comment section of your website, you are safe from liability. However, it will not protect you or your employees from liability. It may also prove helpful to moderate comments on your site. Another step would be to discourage inappropriate or offense language or liable statements from any comments or RSS feed on your website.

"No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider" (47 U.S.C. § 230).

Ex Post Facto

Admitting wrong doing is a bold move on your part. It is also smart and possibly protect you from liability. When you willingly remove liable content or make corrections to false statements, it can diminish any liability of defamation or any other potential legal issues. We all make mistakes, it makes us humans. Correcting them, makes us honest.

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© 2014 E Matt Howerton


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